Sheridan dentist offers time for free emergency treatment

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 10, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Dr. Matt Bridwell of Sheridan Family Dentistry offers free emergency dental care one day every other month at his office. Patients start lining up early in the morning before the office opens. The dentist sees as many patients as he can in four hours, usually around 25.

— In the early morning hours, people began to line up outside a Rock Street office in Sheridan next to the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter.

Some of the people brought chairs, and all were bundled up against the cold. They were not waiting to buy concert tickets or get a celebrity’s autograph; they were there to see the dentist.

Matt Bridwell, D.D.S., offers four hours of free emergency dental treatment from 8 a.m. to noon on the second Tuesday of every other month at his office, Sheridan Family Dentistry.

The dentist said it is his way to give back to the community that supports his practice.

“The people who come to the free clinic are the people you see serving you lunch or working on your car,” Dr. Bridwell said. “They are struggling to make a living. A toothache is painful, but many of them can’t afford dental treatments, so I think we have to do something to help the people around us.”

Offering regular hours of free dental care is something Bridwell has been doing since he started his career.

“Four years ago, my partner in Benton came up with the idea, and I wanted to do it, too,” he said. “I continued doing it when I opened my own office here.”

At first, the free clinic was offered every month, but after more than two years, Bridwell now opens his doors for free one day every other month.

Pam Gillis, the office manager at Sheridan Family Dentistry, said she has known people to arrive as early as 3 a.m.

“A woman in Jacksonville heard about the clinic and drove here,” Gillis said. “I think she spent the night in the car.”

One morning when it was very cold, Gillis said, she changed the rules for the line.

“The night before, I left a sign,” she said. “I said if everyone would sign up on the clipboard that I left at the door, they could get back in their cars to stay warm and then come in when we opened the doors.”

Around 25 people usually see the dentist during the free-clinic hours. The people are seen on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Four hours is about as long as I can do, seeing as many patients as I can in that time,” Bridwell said. “Then I have to quit. It is very tiring.”

Gillis said the patients get a free dental X-ray, then see the dentist.

“We don’t count the expense,” she said.

“I pay the staff, and I volunteer my time,” Bridwell said. “Then the staff and I go to lunch. The staff feels pride about doing this, and I know I feel good about it.

“The trip to the clinic typically ends with having the pulling of a troublesome tooth.

“Usually I do an extraction just to get the patient out of pain and get them back to feeling good. Often the problem is a neglect — of people just not going to the dentist or taking care of their teeth. That is a major problem in Arkansas. We address everyone’s need as we can. Many come back several times.”

The dentist said several patients have, over time, had all their teeth pulled, and he has helped get them dentures.

Bridwell offers the free dental clinic for community members with no dental insurance who are unable to afford any regular dental care.

For more information about the service, call (870) 942-4444.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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